Derby Baths Blackpool was practically a legend in its own right. For 50 years the Olympic sized swimming pool stood at the left side of what’s now the Grand – previously the Hilton Hotel.
Generations of people, from far and wide, visited to swim in the huge pool before its demolition in March 1990.
Today, the site of Derby Baths is a grassy field (above) on a corner of Blackpool north promenade, between Warley Road and Dickson Road. We went to explore the popular leisure facilities past…
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The Heyday of Derby Baths Blackpool
It opened on 21 July 1939 with a mannequin and bathing parade to celebrate. 1200 swimmers descended on it for opening day. That’s a lot of people – even for an Olympic sized pool!
Did you know? When it was built, Derby Baths Blackpool was the only one in Britain with full Olympic facilities?
At the time of the opening, the modern, red brick hotel of today didn’t exist. Instead, the plot of land between Warley Road and Derby Road was laid out as the Pembroke National Gardens.
In September 1937 work began on demolishing terraced houses on the northern side of Derby Road – after which the baths were named. The entrance to this fine building was at Warley Road.
The typically art deco style building was designed by Borough Architect John Charles Robinson. He was also responsible for a lot of the Blackpool we still see around us today: the open air baths at South Shore, the cliff lift tower, the colonnades and shelters, Stanley Park cafe, Talbot Road bus station and many, many others.
Did you know? During World War II RAF airmen were marched to Derby Baths or the Lido once a week for a shower and/or a naked swim?
Trials and TV
Many famous competitions took place within its walls. From 1953 the Amateur Swimming Association Centralised Championships were held here, along with Water Polo and Synchronised Swimming Championships.
There were national and international swimming and diving events and trials for the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, European Games and many more.
Many of them were televised – there was even a BBC broadcasting station in the basement.
The main pool room had seats for 1800 spectators.
Swimming in Sea Water
The main pool was an impressive 165 feet long x 55 feet wide, with a depth ranging between 3′ and 16′. It’s capacity was 485,000 gallons!
A 30 foot-square learner pool was on the sub-ground floor, for anyone who found the huge main pool a little too daunting!
Bathers originally swam in filtered and warmed sea water. Some years later, the water was drawn from the mains supply.
Slipper baths and showers, Turkish baths, vapour rooms, a hairdressing room, spectators cafe, huge sun lounge and gymnasium completed the facilities.
A Very Delayed Official Opening!
May 1940 was the date planned for the opening of Derby Baths Blackpool, with a ceremony conducted by Lord Derby. However, the small matter of World War II put paid to that idea.
It wasn’t until much later, until 1965 and completion of the saunas, that the ‘official opening’ finally took place.The Earl of Derby, grandson of Lord Derby, conducted the opening.
Modern Day Derby Baths Blackpool
In 1983, themed water slides arrived at Derby Baths with the ‘Splashland’ attraction. There were indoor and outdoor water chutes – the indoor one was the first in Britain.
By 1986 it was known as Derby Pool and advertised as a ‘watery wonderland’ featuring ‘eerie caves, spooky castles and dragons’.
Sadly, the icon to swimming wasn’t to last much longer, closing to the public in 1987. It remained open to schools for another year, finally closing on 16 July 1988.
And the End…
In March 1990 the bulldozers moved in to demolish it – the official reason being concrete cancer.
(Concrete cancer isn’t as hazardous to health as it sounds. Concrete cancer happens when the steel reinforcing within it begins to rust. The rusty steel expands, displacing the concrete around it, causing it to become brittle and crack more – speeding up the process.)
Thanks to John who sent us these photos of the baths during demolition.
Did you know? Rumour had it that a Tunisian businessman offered to swap 5 camels for the 1700 plastic seats!
MANY THANKS to Nick Moore and his fascinating History of Blackpool for historical information used in this article. You can read it in full here.
Your Memories of Derby Baths
John Jackson got in touch with his story. He says “Back in the 1960s, when I was 16 years of age (I’m now 75 years old) I spent a couple of years with the Blackpool volunteer lifeguards. We trained in the sea and then went into the baths for further stamina training sessions. From a standing start, I could swim underwater for about three quarters of a length.
“I believe we had free access to the baths. Looking towards the sea, from the baths where the overhanging walkways are, the Lifeguard Club was situated underneath the overhang walkway. I’m not sure, exactly, in relation to the baths, where the club house was. But walking north past the North Pier and the cenotaph, there were public toilets and then the club house.
“One of my fond memories were the wonderful evenings watching the sun go down. And, of course, the bracing clear air.”
Ian Craven remembers swimming there too. He added “There was a Derby Road Discount Store where you could buy swimming trunks for men and costumes for the ladies. They sold large bath towels and almost everything you need for a swim. It was a very handy store, just across from the new Co-op.”
While you’re here…
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